How to Talk to Children about Racism

During the past few months, our media has been filled with injustices, highlighting the racial discrimination many have to deal with on a day to day basis. From the recent murder of an African-American man by a white police officer in Minneapolis, to countless other recorded events demonstrating blatant racism going viral on social media. As a result, it’s clear that children are more exposed to injustices that happen globally nowadays.

It’s only natural you may want to shield young minds from these wrongdoings, but the fact of the matter is that they are most likely already overhearing people talk about racial differences and racism, which makes this an all the more important conversation to have.


The opportunity to speak up


Now is a better time than ever to broach these difficult conversation topics so that we can have a positive influence in young people’s minds, paving the way for a more equal society.

In order to pave the way towards a more equal society, we must broach these difficult topics and have a positive influence on young people’s minds. As such, now is the best time to begin these conversations.

According to a lecturer from the National Museum of African American History and Culture, children will get information and understand the matters from other sources. This means that it is crucial to begin having these conversations within the home first. This way you can have most impact. However, parents and carers may wonder exactly how to do this tactfully.

This article will now go on to list some of the best ways you can approach the topic about race with young children for the best possible outcomes.


Talking to children about race

Photo taken by @CDC


Expose them to different cultures from a young age


Bringing a vibrant array of cultures in to the lives of young people will have a positive impact from the outset. It has been said that children as young as three are aware of skin colour and have no issues asking questions. When you expand on these conversations early, they are keen to understand and discover.

Remember however, before doing so, to check your own stereotypes and unconscious biases. Although the vast majority of adults wouldn’t consider themselves or their children as racist, intention isn’t always a factor of racism.


Do your research


You must be prepared to answer tricky questions about race-based events and to handle the emotions they may bring out in young people. Be prepared to have a broader conversation on the topic and brush up on your own understanding of history in terms of race relations in your own country. This way, it will be easier to discuss with children.

The resource from NAAMHC called Talking About Race is a fantastic web portal with resources to help parents and teachers navigate the discussion with helpful tools. If you’re looking for a good place to start, you can bring up the topic of institutional oppression in which a system discriminates continuously against some groups and benefits others.


Be a model for them


As an adult, you are responsible for setting an example for young children who look up to you. So, when it comes to thoughtful and productive conversations around race, parents or carers should be comfortable having them with each other first. If you are uncomfortable or intimidated by such conversations, start watching more documentaries and reading more books around conversations on race. There are plenty of great resources online to help parents navigate these sensitive topics for the best outcomes.

Above this, the best way to erase stereotypes and biases is to have a genuine connection with a variety of people from a mix of backgrounds. If everyone who enters the house always looks the same, this will leave a subconscious impression on them. Encouraging children to develop a diverse network of friends is crucial to remain open-minded.

Keep it relatable

When young people think about fairness, it is of great importance to them. You often hear them whining or moaning when something does not go their way or isn’t considered fair for them. Moreover, this is a great starting point in making the matter of racism more relatable to younger minds, as explaining the complexities of institutional racism to young children is not always the easiest.

On the other hand, it is easier to relate it to something they already understand and have experienced themselves. There’s plenty of helpful activities on the web to help children comprehend unfairness within society, at which point the conversation can be moved to how we ourselves can make a positive impact.


Know you don’t have all the answers. And that’s okay.


Whilst it’s great to be an advocate when supporting people’s viewpoints so they can speak up and feel listened to, it’s also important to own up when you don’t know it all. Using your voice and opinions in the right way empowers your kids to do the same too.

However, there is no shame in saying to your child that you will have to come back to them when they ask a question you don’t have the answer to. This could even turn into a joint activity where you watch a documentary or short informative YouTube video explaining the issue in-depth. It also helps keep the conversations honest and genuine, so children remain correctly informed.


In conclusion…


There are many other ways we can help children understand race issues and start proactive conversations with them. The more we lead by example in celebrating diversity and being comfortable in having these difficult conversations whenever they come up, the more children will feel at ease. This way, you can leave a lasting impression on them that helps contribute to a fairer society in the long-term.